A reactive approach to public safety is easy to prescribe. This is what the police and fire departments do very well. A problem is reported then they respond in kind. This is also why so much of their funding and training is dedicated toward helping them effectively react and respond to the problems most commonly reported.

This is a completely different methodology from how the Secret Service keeps the President safe. The Presidents Protection Detail (PPD) can't simply stand around and wait for someone to attack the President before they can do their job effectively. By then it would be much too late. Instead, they employ a preventative approach which is required for the assurance of personal safety. They identify the most realistic threats most likely to occur and then they employ safeguards to mitigate those concerns.

One of the more significant challenges officials face lies in overcoming the assumption that both personal and public safety can be achieved at the same time, by doing the same thing. Protective strategies have specific intent. Methodologies employed to ensure public safety can not ensure personal protection anymore than sunblock can be used to prevent frostbite.

Think about the difference in how safety is defined and ensured at an airport vs that of most concert venues:

  • The TSA screening check-point not only ensures that all who pass through their station have the appropriate ticket for the correct day and time, but they also conduct a rather thorough screening for any items that could possibly be used to harm other passengers.They are concerned with your personal safety, and have taken the appropriate measures to prevent something from happening


  • Now think of a venue where the security team stands at the entrance to make sure everyone has a ticket. Yes, their may be a cursory check of purses and person, but their overall role as security is to protect against unauthorized entry. Taken as a whole, event staff is largely undertrained, underpaid, and lack any social accountability. There is almost no incentive for them to do their job particularly well. Why?  Because they have a built in excuse: “I’m a $10/hr staffer…what do I know?!?!" The result is a very diluted focus on safety. Rather than rising to the level of your expectation, they falter to the standard of their training. This means they're more likely to watch the event than the crowd...while they stand around and simply wait for something to happen. 
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Understanding The Difference May Soon Save Lives

To answer this question properly we must first realize that safety has both emotional and physical attributes, and that both must be in agreement for safety to be achieved.

Parents know this all too well. From the moment a child is placed in their arms, parents devote themselves to not just ensuring the emotional well-being of their child, but they also dedicate themselves to protecting their child from harm.

The warm embrace of a mothers hug may make a child feel safe, but that love alone is not enough to protect the child from the world which surrounds them. Another child tucked safely in their bed at night may be physically safe from harm, but may not feel safe if they believe there is a monster hiding in the closet.  

Only when  our emotional and physical are assured are we – in effect – SAFE.

Security is therefore the process for ensuring our safety. A credible constant maintaining the safeguards we expect will always be in place. In order for security to be effective, the components of how our safety is defined need to remain consistent.

Spencer Coursen | Security Expert | NYC | DC | ATX | LA

Is it too difficult to take a look at the actual problems we face, and then employ the practical solutions that would immediately enhance the safety of our everyday lives?

The best scenario, of course, is to stop an attack from happening in the first place.

The two best options available to ensure Personal and Public Safety in schools, offices, and other public venues are Access Control and Threat Assessment.

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"Preparing today for a safer tomorrow"

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When public outcry demands immediate action, it is easy to revert back to antiquated practices. The most dangerous of which is the age-old, 'but this is what we've always done."

After Sandy Hook,  the authors who proposed legislation to ban certain types of firearms admitted their bills would not have prevented the tragedy from taking place. Years later, they admit they just needed to show that "something was being done." Failing to implement real change, and without an informed electorate asking the right questions, it was simply easier for them to put more police on the street with fancier gear and faster cars and then issue a press release as security theater in the promotion of ensuring your personal safety.

To this day, and everyday since, there has been a news story featuring a local police department taking part in an active shooter drill. Promoting once more how they will REACT to an active shooter. Rarely do we hear of what schools and offices are doing to PREVENT an active shooter from happening in the first place. This is the equivalent of trying to lower the homicide rate by giving ambulances faster engines.

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Safety vs. Security :

We can no longer afford to live in a world where we simply hope that nothing will happen and then solely rely on the first responders to save us when something does. Only when empowered with the truth of what it means to be safe will the securing of our safety be made possible. Doing the same old thing will not change the future. It will only force us to repeat the past. Partisan politics need not get in the way of the effective initiatives required to prepare today for a safer tomorrow.

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Think of security as if it were the umbrella in a storm protecting you from the rain. Your safety lies in the importance of staying warm and dry. Security is the safeguard that ensures our safety remains constant. If the variables risking our safety can be predicted, they can be prevented. Inside our homes, thermostats maintain cozy room temperatures. Locks secure doors. The outside world is not so easily controlled. Weather forecasts may warn us of rain, but safety still requires our participation:  Awareness + Preparation = Safety

Threat Assessment & Protective Intelligence: 

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For those who wish to do harm, the single most influential factor of target selection is “likelihood of success.” This is why insider threats always pose a greater risk of harm than outside actors. Students attack their schools, and workers attack their offices because that is often where: the initial grievance is born; where the ideation that they can “do something about it” is first nurtured; and where the “research and planning” for their attack can often be disguised as day-to-day activity.

According to the FBI, most active shooters do not have a violent past, but almost all have experienced a recent emotional hardship where they felt betrayed, harassed, or tormented. They may have been recently divorced, fired, or suffered a recent financial hardship. In most cases, the violent offender has engaged in some sort of behavior that identifies them as being likely to escalate from disruptive behaviors to destructive action. They may even involve efforts to get classmates, coworkers or friends to help them prepare.

Threat assessment is about the totality of circumstance. It's easy to conceptualize a disgruntled employee mumbling "If they fire me I'll burn this place to the ground" but in reality, an effective threat assessment goes beyond the attention paid to a singular incident and focuses more on the pattern of behaviors an individual displays over space and time. It's about intent, investment, ideation, and capability to do harm, more that it is about the credibility of an emotional outburst. 

The entire point of threat assessment is to identify an emerging threat BEFORE it becomes a violent act and then effectively manage that unfavorable hazard on the horizon toward it's most peaceful resolution.

Lets take schools for example. When a school is in session, there should only be one way for guests and visitors to approach, and a specific process by which they are allowed to enter. A school in session should mimic a Broadway theater after the curtain has gone up: lots of ways for the audience to leave, but only one way for a patron to enter.

It is perfectly possible for a place of business to have an open and welcoming environment, but there is no need whatsoever to give all who enter free-reign throughout the entire facility. Banks do this well. While the lobby is relatively "open" to the public, few have access to get behind the teller desks, and even less have access to the vault.

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What does it mean to be safe?

"Safety" and "Security" are too often used interchangeably; as if they mean the same thing. This can be a losing proposition.

In the wake of violent threats, there is often a costly, ineffective and ill-advised response to security, rather than a well-thought, practical, and preventative approach to safety.

Copyright Spencer Coursen. All rights reserved.

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Why is Access COntrol so important?